Catholic Priest Thanks Protestant Clergy Who Reached Out To Him After 'Hate Crime' Attack

Fr Joe McVeighFacebook

A elderly priest who has made it his life's work to defend civil rights in Northern Ireland has thanked Protestant clergy who reached out to him after his home was victim of a sectarian attack.

Fr Joseph McVeigh was at a wake for his cousin who died on Remembrance Sunday when attackers smashed windows in his presbytery, Tattygar House in Lisbellaw.

Police are investigating the attack as a hate crime.

Fr Joe told parishioners at Michael's Church in Enniskillen that he had thought those days were over, and was shocked and saddened.

"This has been upsetting for me and for many in the parish of all persuasions," he told parishioners, according to Irish News. "I have had messages of support from all sections of the community. The Church of Ireland Bishop and the Church of Ireland Dean here and the Church of Ireland clergywoman in Lisbellaw all expressed their concern and support."

Fr Joe admitted he had always been outspoken and had never been afraid to stand up to civil or clerical authorities. He has recently been vocal in his opposition to Brexit.

"Recently, I have expressed my views about Brexit and these may not go down well with certain people but it is no excuse to attack my house," he said.

"I hope that goodwill come out of it – that it will make those in our community who want a better future more determined to work for peace and justice. I am most grateful for the support I have received from many good people, from both traditions in the parish and from people outside the parish."

He wrote eloquently about the attack in a blog for broadcaster Jude Collins titled Intimidation.

"It is not the first time that this house has been targeted by loyalists. It happened many years ago when another priest lived here. Sadly, there is a small element in this area who are intent on causing tension and division."

He had been living in the house for just over three years.

"I find most of the people to be friendly. I am not sure why I have been targeted. It was Remembrance Sunday and perhaps emotions were running high. I am also thinking the attack may be related in some way to my public stance against Brexit which has been well reported in the local press."

He added: "I thought we had moved on. I thought it was now possible to express an opinion without being targeted by those who disagree.

"While I know that the decent people in the Unionist community are totally opposed to this kind of activity there are a few who still think it is necessary to intimidate and target some people. 'Hate' is a strong word. Hatred is a reality in our society. It has been a reality in many parts of the world and it drives people to carry out the most violent of acts."

He refered to hatred shown to Irish people who emigrated to England and were refused accommodation. "Hatred and prejudice and intimidation go together."

Fr Joe, who grew up in the 1940s in Fermanagh, said he has lived with intimidation all his life as a priest, until the Belfast Agreement in 1998, including by the British army and by anonymous letters and phone calls. But it never deterred him from speaking his mind.

"I am not going to be deterred from speaking or writing about issues that I think are important. The people who intimidate do not like peace and they have no time for equality. I will continue to work for peace and justice and equality for all."

In a memoir, Taking A Stand, published in 2008, Fr Joe wrote of the violence and bloodshed of the troubles: "I suppose one of the big lessons I learned in my life as a Catholic is that Christianity is a reminder that you cannot sit on the fence – that is, if you care about the way your sisters and brothers are treated and if you care about what is happening to the planet earth."